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Bubble Watch: Michigan State Improves NCAA Tournament Hopes

With its blowout win over Iowa last night, the Michigan State basketball team distanced itself from being on the wrong side of the bubble. While they are still on the bubble because of their 18-12 record, their chances of making the NCAA tournament are getting better and better.

Earlier this week, I outlined all of the different scenarios that were in play for Michigan State based on what could happen in its final two regular season games. Losing both games this week was the worst-case scenario for MSU, and it is no longer in consideration following last night's win against the Hawkeyes. As a result, there are now only two scenarios to consider for Michigan State as the Big Ten tournament nears:

  • Beat Michigan to finish with a 19-12 record.
  • Lose to Michigan to finish with an 18-13 record.

For a bubble team, the Spartans are in a very good position heading into the Michigan game. A win would likely wrap up their tournament bid, as it would give them a 19-12 record for the regular season. Their RPI could be in the 30s with a victory, and even if they bowed out against Illinois or Penn State in the 4/5 game of the Big Ten tournament, I still think they would make the tournament with ease.

The reason MSU is in such a great position is because a loss to Michigan wouldn't burst its bubble. MSU would lose a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament, but that would result in playing a team like Iowa in its opening game. That is very winnable, and a victory in that game could very well clinch a ticket to go dancing for the Spartans. A 19-14 record isn't great (if they lost the next game), but Arizona showed a few years ago that a team with a solid RPI and SOS can make the field despite losing 14 games.

While I'm sure the players and coaches will rightfully treat Saturday as a must-win game, a loss doesn't effectively force them to go on a big run in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan, on the other hand, can't afford to lose this game. If it does, it will take some serious work in Indianapolis to get on the right side of the bubble.